Minors used as 'sex toys' by Isis women for reproductive purposes
by Dario Salvi

In the detention centres housing jihadists' families in north-east Syria, stories of exploitation of the very young boys, little more than children, emerge. The mission is to provide new recruits for the 'caliphate'. For critics, this is a pretext used by the Kurdish authorities to separate children from their mothers. But there are testimonies that confirm a 'hidden phenomenon'.

Milan (AsiaNews) - Go and multiply. And to do so, do not hesitate to resort to young people, some little more than children, imprisoned in refugee camps in northeast Syria where hundreds of family members of fighters and jihadists affiliated with the Islamic State (IS, formerly Isis) are being held - under the control of Kurdish militias.

The radical movement that wanted to establish the Islamic caliphate and at the height of its expansion came to control half the territories of Syria and Iraq, although defeated militarily continues to pose a threat on the ideological level.

Unable to enlist mercenaries from abroad or radical elements in the area as they once did, the Daesh leadership has entrusted women with the task of increasing their numbers by bearing as many children as possible.

In order to get pregnant, not having their mates by their side or not finding any new ones, they do not hesitate to 'enslave' minors, in some cases as young as eight years old or slightly older.

"The aim is to expand the population of the Islamic State and make sure that the slogan 'Dawla Baqiya' [the state will remain] is maintained," notes Nujin Derik, a Kurdish fighter with long experience behind her and multiple battles against Daesh.

The woman, who is among those responsible for the surveillance and control of the detention centres in al-Hol and Roj, tells al-Monitor of 'information' that 'babies are born in the camps and are hidden from their mothers'. These, he warns, are 'orders given directly by Daesh'.

Forced into sex

"I want to be a doctor," says Salih, 15 years old, his name fictitious to protect his identity, one of the hundreds of young people staying at the Orkesh rehabilitation centre, not far from the city of Qamishli, in the Kurdish area in north-east Syria. He is the son of one of the tens of thousands of foreign fighters and their wives who have joined the Islamic State from various parts of the world.

Disowned by their countries of origin, some 23,000 children of militiamen of both sexes are condemned - in spite of themselves - to perpetual limbo, confinement, and misery. When they reach puberty, the boys are removed from their mothers held in the notorious al-Hol and Roj camps, because they may be susceptible to indoctrination, prone to violence and exploited for 'reproductive purposes'.

Salih, originally from the Balkans, was forced to have sex with older women belonging to Isis and has been in the Orkesh centre for three months. A manager named Bawer reports that the young boy allegedly confessed 'to his teacher that he was being used by women [of the caliphate] to get them pregnant'. 'And I can assure you,' he continues, 'that he is not the only one'. 

Several educators raise allegations of sexual exploitation of children and young boys inside the detention camps and, in some cases, it is the Isis mother-fighters themselves who push their children to become 'reproductive machines'.

Mounir, an 18-year-old from Saudi Arabia who was transferred to Orkesh from the al-Hol centre together with his 12-year-old brother, confirms the picture, providing further details: "A big Sudanese boy," he says, "told me everything" during the time the two shared a room. He said he used to have sex with women in al-Hol 'to supply the Islamic State with children'. The difference, Mounir continues, is that "he never said he was forced to do it. And I think he enjoyed it, at least in the beginning'.

Underworld of exploitation

Anne Speckhard is the director of the International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism, an associate professor of psychiatry at Georgetown University and works as a consultant on rehabilitation and de-radicalisation programmes for Isis detainees.

She has met 273 of them so far and, in an article published in February for The Daily Beast and on 1 March in the Jerusalem Post, he first denounced the 'exploitation' of teenagers: boys used to 'serve the expansion of the Islamic State, becoming temporary husbands', taking 'up to four women at a time'.

At first she was sceptical about the rumours of exploitation, but as time went by, listening to testimonies 'from people she trusted' and accumulating encounters, she changed her mind. 

A guard at the al-Hol centre reports at least 10 young people involved, but the actual numbers are difficult to pin down. No one knows the exact number of pregnancies registered in the centres, but according to the Kurdish-Syrian intelligence itself, they are 'many' and should not happen 'since the men are detained in separate places'.

It must be said that some pregnancies could be the result of illicit relations with the guards despite the appropriate measures, but the certainty remains of a vast phenomenon of 'sexual slavery' involving women of the caliphate and minors. 

The fact that many give birth without even informing the centre's management, with the help of other female prisoners who act as doctors, nurses and midwives is also making estimates difficult. Similar stories concern al-Roj, where a very young man had to seek hospital treatment after a massive intake of a substance with Viagra-like effects.

Caliphate cubs in captivity

During their years in the centres, the young boys with the help of their mothers, have once again given birth to the so-called 'cubs of the caliphate', the army of child combatants used in the past by Isis for public beheadings and propaganda videos that caused so much horror in the world.

"They practise with targets, using swords and sharp objects, they train in judo and hide inside chadors and niqabs," says Derik. "Their mothers," he continues, "brainwash them," which is also why the children are separated from their parents from the age of 12 if they start showing violent behaviour or aggressive attitudes. 'There have been,' he admits, 'several beheadings in the centre. That is why we have no choice'. 

The United Nations and pro-human rights groups have severely criticised the Syrian Kurdish authorities' separation policy, calling it illegal and immoral. According to some, there is a strong concern that claims of sexual exploitation and indoctrination are - in reality - just a pretext to legitimise forced mass divisions.

These accusations are fuelled by the fact that the Syrian Kurds, at least so far, have been unable to provide photographic evidence of new children born as part of the 'go and multiply' campaign.

A Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) official says the babies are difficult to photograph  because women "use midwives to hide them in tents" as soon as they are born and informants are "too scared" to take photos "at the risk of being discovered".

But the phenomenon is real, as emerges from the words of a woman who calls herself Umm Seydullah and who purposely breaks the curtain of silence and mystery: 'With Allah's permission, our Dawla (State),' she says, 'will return again. And it will be stronger than ever. Write also this. The history [of the caliphate] will not end here'.